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What really bothers me about Kater's account is its resolutely negative tone, which continues into the second chapter: "Promising the Silver Age, 1832–1863." This chapter enumerates all of Weimar's failures to live up to the golden age. As Kater does correctly point out, Weimar was a backwater industrially and agriculturally, remaining "behind the norm in other German states despite some impetus caused by the Industrial Revolution." As in Goethe's time, the main enterprises in Weimar until mid-century were "handicraft shops, tightly controlled by ancient codes." Friedrich Justin Bertuch's early industrial efforts, continuing under his heirs, are mentioned (although Kater fails to cite Daniel Purdy's study of Bertuch in his bibliography), as are the presence of a few small-scale factories. "Ambitious entrepreneurs," as he writes, those wishing to start something on a large scale, were discouraged. His prime example is that of Weimar-born Carl Friedrich Zeiß, who was barred by the Weimar town administrators from setting up a mechanics shop, "for fear he would cause undue competition to the two existing establishments." Thus, he moved to Jena and set up his workshop, which was the start of the Zeiß optical works. Kater's judgment: "Weimar had missed the entrepreneurial chance of a century."
I would not have thought much about the matter had my friend not been curious to ascertain the veracity of the account about Carl Friedrich Zeiß. It happens that among my circle of friends is a man who, until his retirement, occupied a very high position at Zeiss, and I asked him about Kater's description. He wrote me that Kater's account is "generally" true, but that the matter is more complex. Here is the beginning of the story, from the first chapter of the official history of Zeiss: Carl Zeiss: Die Geschichte eines Unternehmens, 1846-1905 by Edith Hellmuth and Wolfgang Mühlfriedel. As will be seen, there is a connection with Goethe.
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Körner had been "Hofmechanik" in Weimar since 1810, going to Jena in the same capacity at the university, where he received the doctorate and became Privatdozent. At this time he and Goethe corresponded in connection with Goethe's scientific studies, and Körner was also called upon to manufacture optical, meteorological, and astronomical instruments, for instance, for the Jena observatory. According to the natural science supplement of the Goethe-Handbuch, Goethe consulted him in connection with the Farbenlehre. He built an apparatus for displaying the entopic colors, and he produced glass that showed the entopic "Farbmuster" requested by Goethe.
|An achromatic doublet, which combines crown glass and flint glass|
So, this was the Jena environment in which Carl Friedrich Zeiß began his apprenticeship, learning the operation of fine tools and machinery and the manufacture of microscopes and scientific instruments. Körner allowed his apprentice to take scientific courses at the university –– which included algebra, analytic geometry, trigonometry, mineralogy, and optics –– although, according to the Zeiss company history, he did not initiate Carl Friedrich into the secrets of producing glass. The young man completed his apprenticeship in 1838 and went a wandering, continuing to solidify his expertise, which included a period in Vienna and Berlin. He returned to Weimar in the fall of 1845. He did indeed apply for permission to open his own workshop there and was turned down because the city already had two mechanists, and the powers-that-be did not believe there was enough business for a third.
But would Zeiss have become the world-famous optical producer had he stayed in Weimar? Of course not. It wasn't so much that Weimar missed an opportunity, as that it did not have the facilities or the faculty of Jena or its university. By the time Zeiss settled there, Jena was the intellectual center of the Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach, and much of the reason for its eminence was of course due to Goethe, who fostered and supported so many of the scientific institutes and collections there, not to mention cultivating contact with the scientists.
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